The BitRanger is an amazingly weird synth that balances between playing with chaos and improvised melodies.
I think that Bastl has a unique stance when it comes to synths since they often walk the fine line of making ecosystems of organized chaos. Not just a synth with voices and modulation but embedded bizarre tools too. So for someone who loves the aspect of exploration and discovery, it’s an absolute dream. IMHO you have to love happy accidents to really enjoy Bastl’s workflow. I’ve explored many different synths but Bastl + Korg is my power couple that I keep returning to each time.
But I enjoy the BitRanger and SoftPop specifically because I can get a little bit of Eurorack-ish satisfaction without killing my wallet. I also enjoy the breadboard patching format since it’s so small and portable.
The BitRanger is the core of my setup and I use it for creating generative melodies. It’s my favorite since I’m surprised by the sounds I can get out of it every time I make a patch. Between the stereophonic aspect, BYTE melodies, and wave-shaping ability, I think it makes for fascinating playground. It’s my improvised techno paradise. But honestly I’d be hard-pressed to use it as anything but the ringleader.
On the BitRanger, the generative BYTE melodies are fun and musical to play with, and can easily be pushed into noise territory. Melodies can be created by plugging the Divider Bits into the BYTE sockets and the different voltages stack to create arpeggios. Then plugging in Divider Bits into the MUX1 INH & MUX2 INH sockets will create muting patterns, for the left and right channels separately. The MUX A, B, C sockets do wave-shaping and this also programs what is output from the Adventure Bits section and create lots is chaotic voltages to play with. Also the XOR sockets are useful for getting some out-of-phase clock patterns. Creating feedback loops allows for some very interesting possibilities, but you've gotta be open to free for all exploration approach. But some of it can be somewhat predictable, such as plugging in /4 and /16 both into the MUX2 INH sockets means you'll get a muting pattern that roughly sounds like this: 00000000000000001000100010001000 repeat. So it only gets more unpredictable from there. It is a synth with circuit bending at its heart.
The SoftPop has a mind of it’s own and yet it’s also the most friendly to outsiders since it has accepts 1V/oct CV pitch in. But the real appeal of the SoftPop is the External In. I have it hooked up to the AUX out of my mixer, so I can send anything into the External In and get all kinds of amazing interactions since the filter mod and oscillators are affected by the incoming signal. Plus it has an envelope follower that is perfect for having the filter mod follow the hi-hats or such. So it's a bizarre mix of instrument vs FX box. It has a unique sound, but with just by exploring the 6 vertical sliders it can make a wide range of sounds. I use it mainly as a accent maker, with occasionally it doing solos too (since I have the BitRanger BYTE CV outputting to the SoftPop).
The BitRanger and SoftPop play very nicely together. I've found cross-patching is most fruitful when inputting a drum track into the SoftPop External In and then sending the Envelope Follower socket into the BitRanger. But I also have the BitRanger CV output to the SoftPop. So the SoftPop playing the sames pitches as the BYTE melodies of the Bitranger. The BitRanger doesn't output 1V/oct CV pitch, but it still sounds in tune on the SoftPop.
I owned the Kastle for a short time and I really didn’t gel with it. I just couldn’t get it to sound much different than vanilla and didn’t want to use it just as merely a modulation source. If you’re curious, here are some video jams featuring the synths mentioned. https://www.youtube.com/user/nerdynerdnerd/videos
More BitRanger thoughts and details... BEWARE!
- Many of the inputs/outputs have 3 sockets, but it’s interesting because sometimes MUX1/MUX2 will pass along signals patched into it. It’s difficult to put into words but you can get some fascinating patterns. For instance if you patch /8 into MUX1 INH and MUX2 INH, then the left and right channels will mute every 8 cycles. But if you then patch /32 JUST into the MUX1 INH, then the signal will actually pass along the /32 to MUX2 INH due to the shared /8 circuit. Now while that sounds like a fault it’s actually a wonderful part of the synth and truly makes it a circuit bending instrument at it’s heart. Tons of flavors and depth to explore with this aspect.
- All CV labeled sockets are weighted inputs, meaning that the left most input has the weakest effect while the rightmost has the strongest effect. This is particularly useful for the VCO CV since the rightmost socket can really scream.
- The BYTE sockets can help to create arpeggiated melodies by plugging in multiple divider bits. So much to explore with this. One of my favorite ways to slowly evolve a melody and keep things fresh.
- Patching into MUX 1/2 A, B, or C will modulate the wave-shape depending on how it’s patched and can have subtle to heavy effects.
- There are 4 modes that affect the oscillator wave-shape, selectable by 2 switches:
- AI. = simple tone
- BI. = complex tone
- AII. = noisy tone
- BII. = digital noise
- There is a data modulation switch and its function is based on which oscillator wave-shape you have selected (outlined below). There are also data sockets which output a combination of both MUX outputs, which makes things crazy when used as a CV source for VCO CV or such.
- AI. = pitch modulation
- BI. = wave-shape inversion
- AII. = slight wave-shape randomization
- BII. = noise randomization
- The Utility Belt is useful mainly for connecting to other modular synths. But the XOR gate is very useful for inverting a clock signal or switching between two clock signals in a complex way.
- Also the Adventure Bits sockets open up some possibilities for chaos. All of these sockets are “programmed” by however you patch the the MUX1 & MUX2 inputs. Within the utility belt, the MUX1 & MUX2 sockets are a summed output of all the patching going on within MUX1 or MUX2. I still don’t quite understand what BIT8 and BIT3 output but it’s definitely lends some unpredictability. I asked Peter Edwards (creator) and he said: “They are steps of an 8 step shift register fed by an XOR-ed mashup of bits from 2 MUXs that are reading the outputs of the shift register and controlled by the MUX1&2 sockets.”
- When in doubt, read the manual! - https://www.bastl-instruments.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/MANUAL-BIT-RANGER-SMALL_FINAL-1.pdf
Perhaps the only caveat is that the BitRanger performs best when it’s the master clock, at least in my opinion. While it’s possible to sync the BitRanger to other gear by using the CLK IN and then each clock pulse will reset the LFO cycle, yet this changes the character of the BYTE melodies since the LFO is being reset mid-cycle. Overall I prefer how the BitRanger sounds and functions when it's the master clock, which is fine for my setup. This isn’t so much a problem if you have a KeyStep and the clock signal can be input and transmuted out to MIDI. But I’m not sure how you would get a DAW to follow the BitRanger clock.
Also when using the CLK IN, I find it's difficult to keep the BitRanger tightly synced and not drift slowly over time. I believe this is because the LFO knob multiply/divides the CLK IN signal, which is fun to play with. Yet this makes it nearly impossible to precisely set the LFO knob to it's fundamental position (+0 has the LFO knob straight up, clockwise is multiplied, counterclockwise is divided).
The LFO knob is quite sensitive. I typically use a tap BPM calculator, connect the /4 socket to a BYTE socket, and then adjust the LFO knob into the dance-able range. Once happy then I don't touch the LFO knob again.